Northern Ireland Planning Service

Reform of the Planning System and Transfer of Planning Functions

Background

A major reform programme for the planning system in Northern Ireland was originally announced in November 2007 and incorporates a range of medium to long-term measures designed to address all the key management elements of the planning system including development plans, policy and development management.
The NI Executive agreed to the final policy proposals for reform of the planning system in February 2010, including the measures necessary to transfer the majority of planning functions to the new district councils.
The Planning (Northern Ireland) Act 2011 received Royal Assent on 4 May 2011.
The Act will provide for the transfer of the majority of planning functions from central government to district councils as part of local government reform, as well as a number of reforms to the planning system.  As an interim measure, work had been progressing to introduce a Reform Bill which would have enabled the Department to introduce some of the reform measures in advance of transfer.  However the Environment Minister announced on 22 October 2013 that he had decided not to move the Planning Bill to Further Consideration Stage either now or in the future. Therefore work on the Planning Reform Bill has now halted and refocused on the subordinate legislation necessary to implement the Planning Act (NI) 2011.
Transfer of the majority of planning functions to the new 11 councils is due to take place in April 2015.  To take forward this work a Project Board and Project Team have been set up.
Links to the Planning Act and the Explanatory Notes prepared by the Department are provided below in order to assist the reader of the Act.  The Notes do not form part of the Act and have not been endorsed by the NI Assembly.  The Notes should be read in conjunction with the Act.

Reform links

Local Government Reform

As part of local government reform the bulk of planning functions will no longer rest with the Department. Instead these powers will be devolved to district councils which, through their elected representatives, will be responsible and accountable for most planning decisions.  The transfer of most planning functions to new district councils does not just involve the redistribution of functions but includes the creation of a new planning system for Northern Ireland: requiring new roles, responsibilities and relationships for all those involved in the planning process.
It was originally envisaged that transfer of planning functions would take place in May 2011. However, at that time Executive Ministers were not able to come to an agreement on the way forward for local government reform. The Executive has now agreed that transfer will take place in April 2015, at the same time as the creation of the new 11 district councils.
Further information on local government reform can be obtained from the following websites: